Shakespeare’s Henry V is always a crowd pleaser. Well, to me, anyway. Always a good one. I’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh 1989 version several times. I tend to use it as a safe introduction to Shakespeare because I found the film quite accessible. Only more recently, the “Ethan Hawk” (branded) Cymbeline comes to mind as being more accessible.
Henry V is a military play, the end of the “Henriad,” or the historical tetralogy – the plays, in order? Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 & 2), and the culmination of the cycle, Henry V.
In my own shorthand manner, I usually call it “Henry Vee,” just to keep it simple and ordered in my thinking. Repeatedly, what I’ve heard, through various Shakespeare sources, is that the play Henry V posits the question, “What is a good king?”
I have yet to see the whole “Olivier” Henry V, produced as a good propaganda at the height of World War II – what I’ve been told? Laurence Olivier plays a noble Henry V whereas Kenneth Branagh plays a gritty one. A noble king, and a gritty, street-smart king. Different by degrees.
Listening to one set of notes about the play, one scholar suggested that Shakespeare’s King Henry is both.
- “The King is no longer a wild young prince called Hal, but rather a king who has reclaimed the comfortable name of Harry, a name he shared in Henry IV Part I with Hotspur (Harry Percy), his chief rival. And this King Harry is a man who expressly and deliberately defines himself as a Christian king.” (page 394)
Garber, Marjorie. Shakespeare After All. NY: Pantheon Books, 2004.
Strangely enough, that one text goes on to point out that Prince Hal, now King Harry, seems to have assumed some of Harry Percy’s traits like honor and bravery. We eat our enemies to gain their strengths, I do believe.
Someplace, my notes are scattered, at best, I’ve got a link to an apocryphal play, Edward III, and the first time I listened to that play, I kept getting flashes of language from Henry V.
The question about whether the King is noble or gritty? Refer to Bloom?
- “Shakespeare does not let us locate Hal/Henry V’s true self; a king is necessarily something of a counterfeit, and Henry is a great king.” Page 323.
Bloom, Harold. Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human. NY: Riverhead Books, 1998.